The Biopunk Reader


Interview with Ella Drake, Author of Jaq’s Harp

Back in November, I ran across this gorgeous cover on The Galaxy Express:

dark biopunk yumminess

The cover belonged to a novel forthcoming from Carina Press, and had this tagline: Futuristic Romance/Twisted Fairytale/Biopunk.

My ears immediately perked. It'd been a long time since I'd stumbled across a self-identified biopunk tale. And...twisted fairytale? Mmmm--just my speed. :)

This month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jaq's Harp author Ella Drake. (::squeal!::) For more about Jaq's world, fantastical bio-engineered beans, and anti-corporation on.

Back cover blurb:

In a world of floating islands and bio-engineered beans, the bad guys are taken down by agents of the Mother organization—agents like Jacqueline "Jaq" Robinson. Instead of accepting her next routine assignment, she sets out on a mission of her own—to destroy Giant Corp, the company responsible for her sister's wasting illness. Jaq must steal her cure from Giant's headquarters high above the city...even though she'll be brought face-to-face with Harper English, the man who left her to go deep undercover at Giant.

For Harp, Jaq had been a distraction the mercenary thought he couldn't afford. But once he sees her again, Harp knows he's made a mistake. Even though she vowed he won't have her again, it's clear they still have a powerful attraction. Harp's determined to get a second chance with Jaq—if they can escape Giant Corp and get back to solid ground in one piece...

TBR: Ella, thank you for joining us on The Biopunk Reader. On your website, you describe Jaq's Harp as a "futuristic romance/twisted fairytale/biopunk"--which immediately piqued my interest. First, a question I love to ask everyone: How did you first get involved with biopunk?

ED: In a round-about kind of way. I’ve always had a fascination with punk genres in speculative fiction, but for the most part, I’ve be more drawn in by cyberpunk, ala Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, and The Matrix. Recently, my youngest child developed a strange fascination for the movie “9”. While not biopunk, the idea of stitchpunk coupled with the steampunks I’d started reading developed into an urge to write biopunk (how many punk words can a person fit in one paragraph?) . I wanted to delve into how the development of biology and medicine might happen in the future. One concept I’ve yet to explore is how biology and cyber technology will mix and grow. A functional, biology based computer would have astounding possibilities.

TBR: Can you tell us about Jaq's world?

ED: Jaq’s world is a near-future concept set in “New Castle” which is a sprawling city that takes up most of a continent. I purposely don’t base it on a real city—or even a continent as we know it—to give a bit of a fairy tale feel to that setting. New Castle has a token government. Things are really run by mega-corporations that are no longer housed on the ground. The wealthy and their corporations abide in floating islands in the sky. Think Laputa from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, or even the movie Castle in the Sky. There’s a visual and physical stratus to go with the sharp division of social and financial status.

TBR: What inspired you to mesh fairytale with biotechnology?

ED: I owe this to discussing Jack and the Beanstalk with my kids. This is one of those tales that doesn’t really bear reflection. The moral implications of a thief climbing up into a Giant’s castle to steal from him and then kill him does make me wonder what the point is of the story. From those discussion, I started wondering what would give Jack proper motivation and a good reason to go up into the sky. The idea then started to run with “what ifs”. I wondered what would happen if the Giant were actually a giant corporation and what if Jack was actually Jacqueline and the beanstalk could actually happen. I mean, if you’re pondering a twist of this particular fairytale, you can’t ignore the beanstalk!

TBR: Will you tell us a little about your protagonists, Jaq and Harp?

ED: Former lovers Jaq and Harp are both agents of the Mother organization, a spy organization that developed out of the government’s ineffectiveness in dealing with megacorps. Harp abandoned their relationship to go deep cover in Giant Corp. Now, Jaq is basically going on her own mission to take down the corporation because they caused her sister to become gravely ill. They meet up on the floating island and things escalate rapidly. There’s hurt and grudging attraction between the two, and they have to find each other before they can be happy again. In this story, they take technology and bio-tech for granted. It’s part of their world and tools they use. It’s not part of the conflict between them, though it does force Jaq into the actions she takes.

TBR: "Floating islands," "bio-engineered beans"--it all sounds fascinating! What's your favorite bit of bio-tech in the story?

ED: The bio-engineered beans! There are a kind of living technology that after being planted, grow into a large, green, living ladder.

While the backdrop of this story is biopunk, the marginalization of the poor, the powerful corporations, and the advancement of biotechnology that empowers it, neither of the main characters have been biologically modified and the main bio-tech element of import is the beanstalk. There’s also the concept of biological manipulation for monetary gain, in this story, in the form of purposely spreading a virus to make profit on the vaccine. Another of my favorite elements is actually a character, Monsieur Bovine who is an equipment chief in Mother who’s main focus of interest is in bio-tech advancements. Someone who makes strides in development while trying to make them applicable in the fight against megacorps. He’s kind of my anti-evil-scientist bio-geek.

TBR: Where are you going with this world? Do you have more stories planned?

ED: I’ve written another story in this world that goes deeper into biopunk elements and explores the meaning of humanity and the what-ifs of biological enhanced people. It’s a bit darker than Jaq’s Harp and I hope to be able to share more about it soon.

TBR: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

ED: One last thought is about the lingering inspiration that The Island of Doctor Moreau has on me (and Christine, I’d say [ed.: yes!]) when writing biopunk. I’d compare the world of Jaq’s Harp is something more like Gattaca, but I’d love to delve into the darker world of experimentation like in Doctor Moreau. Maybe one day.

Ella, thank you!


Oh, and by the way... Jaq's Harp was released today. :)

Happy reading!


Comments (3) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Thanks for having me! I enjoyed discussing Jaq’s Harp with you & love following The Biopunk Reader!

  2. wow, I learn something new every day :) I didn’t know about biopunk… but, I’ll have to read more about it now.

    Congratulations on your book release, Ella!

  3. I think Jaq’s world is so awesome, that I’m applying to work for Mother currently. :)

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